"In your anger do not sin.”
Throughout the millennia anger has so often been the companion to all kinds of commandment-breaking escapades—at both the group and individual level—that it’s easy to forget that these words are actually in the Bible. Every time I turn to Ephesians 4:26, there they are, a constant reminder that by itself anger is not wrong. In fact, the apostle’s charge implies that anger can be channeled for good.
An Old Testament example is found at the beginning of King Hezekiah’s reign. Hezekiah summoned the Levites to restore the Temple services and celebrate the Passover for the first time in decades. What followed was revival across the entire country, highlighted by a mob that “went out to the towns of Judah, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin and in Ephraim and Manasseh” (2 Chron. 31:1).
One of the most confusing verses in the Bible may be the one in which Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it” (Matt. 11:12).
I don’t think most of us see either violence or anger as positive. While there are many interpretations of this verse, I hear Jesus saying that God’s people are often pushed into conflict by the many evil forces entrenched in our world. If we want a place in the kingdom of heaven we can’t just go with the flow; we have to push back.
If we want a place in the kingdom of heaven, we can’t just go with the flow; we have to push back.
I’ve been a sports nut for as long as I can remember. As a kid, when I wasn’t in school I was playing basketball, football, or baseball with my neighborhood friends. This “love of the game” has followed me into my adult years.
I never thought of sports as an “idol,” because it’s never gotten in the way of going to church, redirected my tithe, or, by my own definition, become an outright obsession.
Yet when celebrating my wedding anniversary this fall, I checked the score of games a few too many times. When my team starts going downhill my mood has a corresponding slide, and those around me suffer the effects. By worldly standards I might not be obsessed. But that doesn’t mean I’m living up to heavenly ones.
When Hezekiah ascended to power, idols in the kingdom were robbing God’s people of their joy and spiritual rest. The only way to reverse that was to get a little angry and violently destroy the things that kept them away from God. Although my idols aren’t made of wood or stone, I’ve realized that I need to violently push back, getting rid of whatever is preventing me from a closer walk with my Savior.*
Yes, “in your anger do not sin.” Let’s channel our anger to take our place in the kingdom of heaven.
* I’m not implying that it is within my power to cleanse myself. The only one who can do that is Jesus. However, the presence of idols in our lives minimizes the effectiveness of the Holy Spirit. Our job is to respond to the Spirit’s promptings so that we can go to the next level in our walk.
Jimmy Phillips is regional marketing director for Adventist Health Southern California.